Album Review: U2, Songs of Surrender
In a vacuum, it would seem strange to call an album of 40 re-released songs by a band whose debut album came out 43 years ago an ambitious project. For virtually any other band, it would seem like a shameless cash grab, an excuse to milk a few more sales out of songs that had been sitting around for decades without lifting much of a finger. U2, however, is not any other band.
Aptly released on St. Patrick’s Day 2023, Songs of Surrender, the Irish rock legends’ 15th studio album, is not your average greatest hits record. Rather, it is a reimagining of their catalog, featuring 40 re-recorded versions of some of their best songs, songs that tell the stories of who they were, where they’ve been, and who they’ve become.
Conceived of and recorded over the course of two years, largely during COVID lockdowns, the final product is not the raucous brand of pop-rock we’re used to, but a much more intimate, subdued look at U2. The band decided against simply recreating their older works in favor of an approach that saw them free themselves of the limitations of the songs that had already been recorded.
Songs of Surrender opens with a reimaging of one of the band’s best tracks, Achtung Baby’s “One.” Gone is the distorted guitar, replaced by piano, and the sound that could fill any arena in the world. The Edge, the band’s guitarist and SOS’ lead producer, abandoned his signature spacy, effect-pedal driven playing style in favor of a raw, acoustic tone. Listeners are not greeted by Bono’s signature growl but instead a weathered voice that carries experience and age.
Bono still brings power, however, showcased on tracks like the reworked version of “Walk On (Ukraine).” Never one to shy away from making his political views known, Bono rewrote many of the lyrics to express support for the nation of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Russia’s invasion. Bono’s voice strains with emotion as he sings, backed by acoustic guitar and piano. “Where the Streets Have No Name” is a highlight, with Bono’s voice doing most of the heavy lifting, only an ethereal background track behind him. This serves as a template for most of the record, with only the barest of essentials featured on each track, what the song needs rather than what we necessarily want.
Of course, not every track on an album of 40 will be winners. Some songs just do not translate to the bare bones aesthetic the band was going for. Where some of Songs of Surrender’s best tracks are reimagined and reworked classics, some of the weaker songs sound like nothing more than literal translations on acoustic guitar. This is notable on songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Vertigo”, which don’t bring enough to the table to make stripping them down worth it.
Overall, Songs of Surrender is a solid addition to U2’s body of work. It gives listeners a unique perspective on some longtime favorites and an intimate look into the band’s musical process, particularly that of the Edge as an arranger and producer. It would have been easy for Songs of Surrender to become a phoned-in nostalgia trip more akin to an aging U2 cover band. Instead, the band created a thoughtful retrospective that showcased and reimagined an incredible career.
Songs of Surrender Full Track List
- Where The Streets Have No Name
- Stories For Boys
- 11 O’Clock Tick Tock
- Out Of Control
- Beautiful Day
- Every Breaking Wave
- Walk On (Ukraine)
- Pride (In The Name Of Love)
- Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
- Get Out Of Your Own Way
- Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
- Red Hill Mining Town
- Ordinary Love
- Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
- Dirty Day
- The Miracle Of Joey Ramone
- City Of Blinding Lights
- I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
- Electrical Storm
- The Fly
- If God Will Send His Angels
- Until The End Of The World
- Song For Someone
- All I Want Is You
- Peace On Earth
- With Or Without You
- Sunday Bloody Sunday
- Lights Of Home
- Cedarwood Road
- I Will Follow
- Two Hearts Beat As One
- Miracle Drug
- The Little Things That Give You Away